Sher Fick: Worshiping at the Altar of Biomedicine By Chen Tamir Coping Skills (2008-9) A Paxil A Day… (2008-9) If there were a thing that consistently made me happy – that allowed me to be well, feel good about myself, do the things I value, and be loved by those around me– I would worship it. I would create rituals, even daily ones, and give thanks to the higher powers who have made me its beneficiary. However, my dependency on this hallowed thing would also stir anxiety caused by being at its mercy, hoping it will always be available, and resenting its power over me. Such complexity is evident in Sher Fick’s work. This all-American wife and mother works around issues of bioethics, gender, and discrimination. Fick has suffered from clinical depression and anxiety, along with chronic insomnia, pregnancy complications, and migraines. Her cure is a daily cocktail of prescribed drugs, which she uses as inspiration and defies the taboo of being a mother on anti-depressants. Fick’s interest in bioethics melds with her strong socialization as a Southern woman and her exploration of gender borrows from artists who deal specifically with materiality, symbols and even craft, such as Kiki Smith and Louise Bourgeois. Coping Skills is a sculpture comprised of 45 pill bottles ensconced in girlish fabrics and stitched shut. The bottles are arranged in three long rows over a horizontal mirror with a wooden frame, erected on wooden legs. The scraps of fabric stitched over the bottles are comprised of vividly colored, irregular patterns, often scraps of hospital receiving blankets inspired by cloying pop culture imagery. Some of the patterns have bits of texts on them, such as “please stay with…,” “Our Wedding,” “Viva Frida” (over an image of Frida Kahlo), and “Brassier.” The wide variety of bottle shapes and sizes suggests Fick takes a plethora of drugs, or has experimented greatly to find the right ones. In fact, the 45 bottles total her yearly consumption. The simple structure of Coping Skills amounts to what looks like a strange altar. It is also reminiscent of a lady’s vanity table, with dainty bottles of cosmetics that, like drugs, augment us to perform the functions of womanhood as society prescribes (pun intended!). When approaching the work, I glimpse myself over the mirror, and think instantly of Narcissus admiring his reflection. The mirror is one of our culture’s most ubiquitous symbols whose meaning runs the gamut of narcissism to introspection to doubling. All of these interpretations are valid here: The doubled person who enjoys two versions, the given one, and the one improved by drugs; the introspection and lonely battle of coping with mental illness; and the love for oneself at triumphing over it. In Coping Skills the mirror also fulfills an aesthetic function: doubling the bottles turns them into short tubes that resemble candles, bringing us back to the notion of a devotional altar. The shadow cast by the pill boxes above the mirror creates light reflected onto the back wall which adds a beautiful touch. The cast shadows resemble the gates of a baby crib, alluding to the post-partum anxiety and depression amplified in Fick’s work, and the bottles themselves resemble toys. The colorful bottles are stitched shut, ornamented with the care that comes from valuing precious heirlooms. However, a double entendre complicates the imagery here too. The bottles, lovingly covered, are also sewn shut, mummified and ensconced forever. Fick’s exploration of modern medicine and its social stigmas falls in line with work by artists such as Damien Hirst, whose Lullaby series (2002) are giant mirrored cabinets filled with rows of colorful pills, and Canadian collective General Idea, whose One Day of AZT and One Year of AZT (1991) are clear predecessors to Fick. Fick's work, A Paxil A Day…,Read More
is a more personal and modest piece consisting simply of various pills in clear bags pinned to the wall in a small grid formation. The pills’ numbing repetition of daily doses creates a calendar that counts down the passing months. Neither chalk marks on a prison wall nor happy celebrations of life - this work creates a foreboding tension between a Minimalist aesthetic and its loaded content.